Watching the Olympics in Sochi takes me back to a conversation I had some years ago with an old friend of mine, David Hemery. David won a gold medal for the 400m hurdles in the Mexico City Olympics, an event for which he spent 8 years training.
An Olympic 400m hurdle race only takes a little over 40 seconds. So David spent 8 years training for what was arguably a 40-second shot at glory. My mind struggled to conceive what that would be like. I asked David “How do you do it? I would have so much performance anxiety I don't think I could have performed.”
David’s reply has stayed with me ever since. He said, “No I wasn’t nervous, I was excited. In my mind I had run that race in every lane, against every opponent I knew, in every weather condition I could imagine. Nothing could have surprised me.” His preparation was incredibly thorough as it is for every Olympian.
When we have to go into our own Olympic events—the big speech, the conversation with our teenager about doing better in school, the accountability conversation with our colleague—how many of us do Olympic-sized preparation? In fact how many of us do any preparation at all?
In order to reach the top of the podium, you need to have trained so well, that like David, nothing can surprise you. That takes three things: preparation, planning, and practice. We all have to go through those steps to get where we want to go. Nobody can jump on a bobsled for the first time and post a world-class time. It takes well thought-out preparation, careful planning, and days, weeks, months, or even years of practice, practice, practice.
Only you can determine what your own personal preparation will look like. The actions you take to prepare to talk to your teenager about their grades will be very different from what you do to prepare have a difficult conversation with your colleague. But for a successful outcome in either scenario, the common element should be a commitment to prepare, plan, and practice in equal measure. By carefully considering and executing on all three, you are sure to achieve a gold-medal finish.